I haven’t played Standard since before Theros was released and didn’t really start paying attention to it until after the Pro Tour; however, since the Pro Tour I did some more serious thinking about it and even did a little breakdown of the States metagame in my last post.
I had sort of intended to play Sin City (that’s my name for WBR) midrange, but I just couldn’t get over how bad the manabase looks. I’ll probably still play it some time before the next set is released, but I just didn’t feel like it was the right choice for my first time out in Standard with this set. I also haven’t played a control deck in ages, so I thought it was time to dust one off. It’s not very original, but here was the build I put together:
[deck title=Esper Control]
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
3 Azorius Charm
4 Doom Blade
3 Detention Sphere
3 Hero’s Downfall
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Temple of Deceit
3 Temple of Silence
4 Watery Grave
1 Pithing Needle
2 Yoked Ox
1 Essence Scatter
1 Glare of Heresy
1 Detention Sphere
2 Sin Collector
2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
27 players for Game Day, so 5 rounds cutting to top 8. As you might be able to tell from my sideboard, I was actually expecting a fair amount of control, and was certainly expecting someone to be on monoblue devotion. That’s not quite how it worked out, though. The other important thing to note is that I brought my 9-year-old son Stuart with me, and he also made the top 8. His deck list will come later.
Round 1: Otto, playing Monoblack Devotion
I have to admit that I don’t really remember game 1 very well. I know I won it, but I really don’t remember exactly how it went. Game 2 I punted a little bit. He had a turn 3 Lifebane Zombie (which of course missed). When he swung with it, I killed it with Hero’s Downfall, which left me open to his turn 4 Desecration Demon. Unfortunately it took me a couple turns to answer the Demon—meaning he hit me for 12 with it—and by then he had drawn into a Mutavault, and when he got the second Mutavault down, even though I had an AEthering, I was done. Game 3 was a close one. He had an early Liliana of the Dark Realms and I had to use a Needle on it before it got crazy, which let him go to town with Underworld Connections. He successfully got a Merchant out to drain me for 7 down to 10, and got in one whack with the Merchant before I dealt with it. I got an AEtherling, he got Erebos. He got a Descration Demon to make Erebos live, but I was able to Verdict off the Demon and get in two swings with the shapeshifter, which was lethal, before he could get Erebos going again. Very good since I was at 3. Whew.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games
Round 2: Tim, playing Naya Aggro
Game 1 was another punt for me, as I did not kill a Fleecemane Lion when I had the chance, and it got monstrous and went pretty much all the way before I could find an Elspeth or an AEtherling. Game 2 I flooded like crazy and only played four spells the entire game.
1-1 matches, 2-3 games
Round 3: Daniel, playing Sin City Midrange
Daniel and I had a long history of alternating wins with each other, but he had actually taken the last two or three in a row from me, so I was hoping luck would be on my side in this one. Turns out it was. Game 1 I hit all my first four land drops and he had missed one of his, and I cast Jace into an empty board and used his -2, hitting something meaningful, and Daniel simply scooped after his next draw phase wasn’t land. Apparently he had a lot of dead cards against me—my guess is multiple Anger of the Gods—and didn’t think he’d be able to make up the land disparity. Game 2 we both mostly drew, played land, and passed (though I got in a couple hits with my Mutavault), and then I stuck a Blood Baron and was able to Dissolve his answers, and that was it.
2-1 matches, 4-3 games
Round 4: Jeremy, playing Monoblack Devotion
Game 1 we spent the first several turns just blowing up each other’s stuff, but I eventually stuck an AEtherling and it went all the way. Game 2 I got a turn 5 Blood Baron, but he had a Devour Flesh for it, so that was a no-op. At one point he had an Underworld Connections out, and I Thoughtseized him to find another Connections and something else, and I took whatever else it was, so he ended up with two Connections on the board. He drew a lot of cards this way, but paid a lot of life for it, and fortunately drew mostly land. I was also a bit flooded, but I finally drew a Detention Sphere to take out both Connections. He was down to 4 when he finally drew a Merchant with a Whip on the table, which brought him back up to 8. That was good for him, as I drew my second Baron, but it turns out Baron was just too good, and I got in two hits with Baron before he could get anything going.
3-1 matches, 6-3 games
Round 5: ID
There were four players on 10 points and five players on 9, so we knew the #9, who was rounded down, had to play, and the #7 and #8 players were paired and they had to play, so we were safe to ID in. I ended up as the overall #7 seed, because the #9 seed won and all the top 4 (with 10 points) ID’d.
3-1-1 matches, 6-3 games
Quarterfinals: Michael, playing Boros Aggro
Game 1 was pretty dumb. He got in a couple hits with 1/1s and I got Jace and Verdict and had board control, but he drew a Magma Jet and every single one of his Boros Charms (yes, all 4) to burn me out. Game 2 he got in some early damage and I cleaned up with a Verdict and then we both flooded out, but his first action once the flood ended was a 1/1 and mine was a Revelation for 8, which was pretty much the end of the game. Game 3 he got me down to 8 before I fired off a Revelation for 6. After that, I used Jace’s -2 and hit two Elspeth and an Ox. Hmm, two Elspeth, that’s a pretty good little Fact or Fiction, Jace. Elspeth locked it up for me after that.
4-1-1 matches, 8-5 games
Semifinals: Aaron, playing Boros Aggro
It’s not unusual at the store to split in the top 4, but this was my fifth Game Day top 8 without earning a playmat, and I really wanted one, so I rejected the split, and got the déjà vu pairing. Game 1 I kept a two-lander because I had two Doom Blades and one of the land was a Temple of Silence so I’d get an extra card to look for land. I sent an AEtherling to the bottom and was rewarded with an Island, Doom Bladed his first two plays, stuck Jace, hit him with Thoughtseize and hit a Boros Charm and saw his other two cards were Chained to the Rocks, so I was under no pressure (plus, he had no Mountains; his red was two Temples). I Revelationed from 12 up to 17, stuck AEtherling and he went all the way. Game 2 I again kept a two-lander because I had an Ox, a Doom Blade and a Divination. I cast the Ox on turn 2 and drew a land and got more land off the Divination. I again stuck a turn 4 Jace to keep the beats off me, then followed up with a Blood Baron. I though he’d go all the way but he died to Celestial Flare. Really? Against a deck with like five creatures? Well, can’t argue with the result. Anyway, he ate the Ox with a Banisher Priest, but the Priest doesn’t do much against Jace, and when he put two more creatures on the board I had the Verdict, then a Revelation to go from 14 to 19, then took over with Elspeth. I even got her to ultimate for the win.
5-1-1 matches, 10-5 games
My finals opponent, who was actually the person I ID’d with in round 5, wanted to go home so he wanted to split. I said I’d split if I got the playmat. He offered to roll for it, but gave me the edge on the roll, 8 or higher on a D20. I decided that was good enough and rolled a 19 so I got the playmat. Yay!
5-1-2 matches, 10-5 games
Also, the top 2 split was $51 in store credit, which was excellent. I got a fourth Thoughtseize, a fourth Soldier of the Pantheon, some Mistcutter Hydras, and a bunch of Temples—plus, of course, the glorious Theros Game Day Champion playmat featuring Elspeth:
Thoughts on the Deck
The deck is obviously very good; I don’t think it’s a mistake that there were 5 Esper Control decks in the top 16 at GP Louisville. This probably isn’t the optimal build but I don’t think it’s a bad one. I’m sure one of the potentially controversial choices in the full suite of Doom Blades. Doom Blade is actually amazing in most matchups, but obviously completely dead against monoblack. If I knew there would be quite that much monoblack I’d consider going down to 2 or 3 and adding a couple of either Far // Away or Ultimate Price—something that actually kills a Desecration Demon.
Also, a few words about Elspeth are in order. I have said publicly (on Reddit) that I didn’t think Elspeth was really all that good because of her high mana cost. (And this is coming from a huge fan of the original Elspeth.) Oh, how very, very wrong I was. Yes, AEtherling ends the game more quickly, but Elspeth offers such terrific protection in the interim, without recurring mana investments. My dear Sun’s Champion, I apologize. You are indeed awesome.
Stuart Makes Top 8
Now, as I said before, my 9-year-old son Stuart also came with me, at his insistence. His first ever Magic tournament was actually Gatecrash Game Day, which he top 8’d with Red Deck Wins. He’s not really ready for anything complicated, but he’s usually reasonably capable with something straightforward. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than this:
[deck title=Selesnya Aggro]
4 Experiment One
3 Soldier of the Pantheon
3 Fleecemane Lion
4 Voice of Resurgence
3 Boon Satyr
4 Loxodon Smiter
2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
2 Gods Willing
3 Call of the Conclave
3 Selesnya Charm
2 Rootborn Defenses
4 Advent of the Wurm
2 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Temple Garden
2 Brave the Elements
1 Pithing Needle
2 Glare of Heresy
2 Last Breath
2 Sundering Growth
1 Rootborn Defenses
3 Unflinching Courage
2 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
I didn’t record his opponents’ names or anything, and I don’t actually remember all of his matches, but I can give the flavor of them.
Round 1 he lost. My round 1 was a grinder and I’m not sure what exactly he lost to–some other aggro deck, I think. I have a vague memory of him looking over and him having punted it. He’s nine, that’ll happen.
Round 2 he won vs. Boros Aggro. His opponent started the game with his sideboard still in his main deck (I noticed this when he played a main deck Glare of Heresy), which he somehow thought was OK with the new sideboarding rules. Uhh, no. Game 2 Stuart won, I think on the back of Unflinching Courage.
I don’t remember the order of his round 3/4 matches, nor do I remember the exact deck matchup for one of them, but I do recall that Stuart’s opponent Josh stumbled a bit on land and got punished for it. The other round was against Bob playing Azorious Control. Stuart won it 2-1, one of them on a Rootborn Defenses effectively countering a Verdict, and the third game on a slightly slow draw from his opponent and Stuart just immediately refilling the board after a Verdict.
Round 5 I watched the entire thing, since I got to draw that round. Stuart was 3-1 but could not draw because his opponent was at #8, but tied on points with the #9 who played. So while Stuart would have been happy to draw, his opponent couldn’t. His opponent was also running Boros aggro. Game 1 his opponent kept a 1-lander, Stuart had all gas and curved out for the easy win. Game 2 did not go as well. Stu got turn 1 Experiment One, his opponent got turn 2 Ash Zealot, Stuart got turn 2… something 3/3, I don’t remember if it was a Fleecemane or a Call. Turn 3 for his opponent was a Chained to the Rocks for Stuart’s 3/3 and another swing with the Zealot. Stuart had nothing on turn 3, holding just land and an Advent. Opponent’s turn 4 was Purphoros. Stuart played land and passed. Opponent played a Chandra’s Phoenix, making Purphoros live and burning Stuart for 2, then swing with the team. Here Stuart punted, not playing the Advent during combat, and that left him at 2, which meant the Phoenix would get him next turn regardless. (Had he blocked with the Advent token, he’d have been at 4 and the god would no longer have been live, but he would be dead to a burn spell or another creature anyway, so it’s not like he punted a game he was likely to have won.) Game 3 Stuart had turn 1 Soldier, who ate a burn spell. Turn 2 Stuart had a Fleecemane, opponent passed. Stuart came back with Ajani, put a counter on the lion, and swung for 4. Opponent came back with Boros Reckoner. Stuart then had the play of the day: he put Unflinching Courage on the Lion, then gave it flying and double strike with Ajani for the 20-point life swing, leaving his opponent at 4. Opponent played some other red creature, Stuart played Brave the Elements for the win. Sweet win into the top 8!
In the quarterfinals, Stuart played against Junk Midrange and lost; I was busy with my own quarterfinal and I didn’t really see much of what happened, though I know Stuart made a sideboarding mistake and took out the Selesnya Charms, which are important for fighting the Desecration Demons. Still, 4-2 is not a bad outing for a 9-year-old!
Thoughts on the Deck
Selesnya Aggro put a lot of decks into the top 8 at States and had a lot of 18+ point decks at the PT but had no overall wins at States and didn’t make the top 8 at the PT. It’s a good deck with the opportunity to punish decks for slow draws, but I have no idea how it beats Monoblue Devotion, which seems like a key weakness. Fortunately, Stuart didn’t play against that. As Craig Wescoe showed at PT Dragon’s Maze, a deck like this can be a tough out for control decks; Rootborn Defenses has something to say there. Fleecemane Lion is just really good; the deck should play 4 and cut a Call of the Conclave, but we only had 3 Fleecemanes. Boon Satyr is good but I think 3 is the right number there.
The real weakness of the deck is the lack of reach or evasion; when we playtested against each other me sticking an Elspeth was simply game over. A swarm of chump blockers is just too much most of the time. Perhaps a third Ajani would be good for that reason. (I should note I lost pretty much all the games where I didn’t get Elspeth.)